Army chief Letsoela talks tough

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  • vows action against escalating crime.

’Marafaele Mohloboli

LESOTHO Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Mojalefa Letsoela, has vowed to deal with the frighteningly rising crime levels which are threatening national security and rendering the country an unsafe investment destination.

Addressing a military parade this week at Makoanyane barracks, a visibly irate Lt-Gen Letsoela expressed concern about the high rate of crime including gun-related murders, armed robberies of businesses, private residences and thefts.

The army chief warned that the army would not sit idly by and watch criminals threaten the peace and scare away investors.

“These crimes should be stopped at the blink of an eye,” Lt-Gen Letsoela said.

“We need to stop these criminals immediately. More so because we are a democratic state where everyone has a right to live freely. The crimes are a threat to a lawful democratic government and they are also badly affecting the economy. We will not be held at ransom by these criminals. I call upon the nation to come forward with information and tips to enable us to nab these criminals.”

Lt-Gen Letsoela’s comments follow the recent spike in violent crimes. The latest such incident occurred this week when a restaurant employee was robbed of over M100 000 at gunpoint in Maseru.

The employee, who works for the Stadium Food Court group of    restaurants, was accosted by unknown gunmen as he was about to deposit the money at one of the banks at Pioneer Mall.

After robbing the employee, the robbers shot a security guard who had attempted to block them from driving away in their getaway vehicle by closing a boomgate. The guard later succumbed to his injuries.

In the final week of July, five women were murdered in different parts of the country as Lesotho sunk to new depths of depravity and callousness.

Among those killed was a woman and teenager from Ha-Molise, Mafeteng. Deputy police spokesperson, Inspector ’Mareabetsoe Mofoka, said the two left home at about 6pm on 26 July for a neighbouring village where they often charged their mobile phones.

However, the two, a 17-year-old girl and 20-year- old woman, never made it back home. They were found dead the next day not far from their village.

Given that there were traces of semen on their bodies, there is a likelihood that they could have been raped before being butchered to death. Their bodies were discovered by a passer-by, who then raised the alarm, Inspector Mofoka said.

In another incident, a 58-year-old woman from Ha-Tšolo, Maseru was found dead last Wednesday.

The woman was employed as an economic planner at the Ministry of Development Planning.

According to police reports, the woman left for work on Tuesday morning and never returned home.

“The deceased was accompanied by her daughter to the bus stop at about 7am. The daughter left her there while she waited for a taxi. It is not known what happened thereafter, except that she never returned home.

“The next day her body was found at a rivulet in Ha-Tšolo. Her colleagues said she had not pitched up for work on Tuesday. Preliminary police reports indicate that she had been assaulted and she had some stab wounds as well. Her assailants are not yet known. The investigations also suggest that she could have been killed elsewhere and hauled to the place where she was dumped,” the police reports state.

Inspector Mofoka said they were investigating another case where a 47-year-old woman was found dead in her rented house on Friday at Motheo near Masianokeng.

“The deceased was tied up and some rags had been stuffed into her mouth and sealed with a tape. Part of her bed had been burnt and a gas cylinder was open. No one has been arrested yet but investigations are ongoing,” Inspector Mofoka said.

A fifth female victim was found dead last week in the bush in Manyoreng. Thaba-Bosiu. Her exact cause of death is not yet known, the police said.

These gruesome murders continue a trend of violence and killings which has resulted in Lesotho attaining the nefarious distinction of being Africa’s murder capital and sixth in the world according to the World Population Review’s 2021 rankings for murders.  El Salvador was rated the murder capital of the world at number one with Honduras coming second,   Venezuela third, the Virgin Islands fourth and Jamaica fifth.  With Lesotho taking the sixth slot, it meant the Kingdom has more murders than the numerous African failed states enmeshed in killer civil wars.

It is also possible that Lesotho may have overtaken some of the top five countries above it in the 2021 world rankings given the ongoing gruesome killings in the country. The inefficient Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) has been proved to powerless to stop the murders. Due to the ineffectiveness of the police, Lt-Gen Letsoela and his soldiers have stepped in to fight the criminals. Lately the army has established a rapid response team and an LDF helicopter can be seen patrolling Maseru these days.

The LDF has also begun a programme to rehabilitate juvenile criminals, commonly known as Manomoro. It has also started a boot camp aimed at instilling values of good behaviour and patriotism among youths.

In his address this week, Lt-Gen Letsoela warned criminal gangs against intimidating youths who had undergone training at the LDF boot camp.

“We need well-disciplined youths for the good of Lesotho but there are criminal gangs who are hell-bent on undermining our efforts to train and rehabilitate the youth. The LDF regards these actions to intimidate youths as a malicious bid to sabotage the good intentions of the government of Lesotho,” Lt-Gen Letsoela said.

The army commander also warned his officers against involvement in Famo gangs that have been implicated in murders and other violent crimes in different parts of the country and in neighbouring South Africa.

“Those who are already a part of those gangs had better come out of them because we will take strong measures.”

Lt-Gen Letsoela named two soldiers who he said had deserted and joined illegal mining activities in South Africa.

“Private Shaabe and Private Motsie are considered to be AWOL (absent without leave) since they disappeared from work. The army shall arrest them wherever they see them and they shall be tried before the court martial. We want them by hook or by crook for they owe us an explanation,” Lt-Gen Letsoela said.

LDF Public Affairs Officer, Captain Sakeng Lekola, reiterated the army’s concerns about escalating crime in a subsequent interview with the Lesotho Times this week.

“The killings and robberies speak volumes about the instability in our country. It is more worrisome when human rights organisations remain mum when such things are happening, yet they are the first ones to speak out when the army takes corrective measures to address the situation.

“Is this to say there are people who have rights and there are those who don’t have them? The human rights organisations are too quiet yet things are spiraling out of control.

“We are not going to watch people turn this country upside down, hence we have already started with our patrols. People should not be scared to see the presence of the army in various places, we are only trying to protect them,” Captain Lekola said.

 

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